Exhibiting Asante

Malcolm D. McLeod


The British Museum’s exhibition Asante, Kingdom of Gold grew out of Asantehene Opoku Ware II’s 1974 demand for the return of regalia removed by British forces a hundred years earlier. The British Museum Act of 1963 prevented the requested return. Nevertheless, the Museum sought ways to cooperate with the Golden Stool (i.e., the Asante nation). The exhibition was one result: it was opened in 1981 by the Asantehene. There were earlier displays about the Asante. The 1874 British invasion of Asante prompted commercial exhibitions during the 1880s and 1890s. The next major display was organized by the Gold Coast colonial officer, R. S. Rattray, as part of the great 1924–1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley. In succeeding years, many museums exhibited Asante artifacts, but with little concern for context. The large Arts of Ghana exhibition created by Cole and Ross brought a welcome new perspective by emphasizing change and creativity in Ghanaian arts. Asante, Kingdom of Gold and the accompanying book drew on the British Museum’s vast Asante collection and tried to illuminate many areas of Asante life and culture through comprehensive displays of artifacts, reconstructions, and the use of early photographs. After London, it traveled to the American Museum of Natural History in New York where it was again opened by the Asantehene. At both venues it was visited by many Asante people, some making special trips from Ghana.

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